Olympics: S. Williams d. Azarenka

Friday, August 03, 2012 /by

SerenaRROnly Russia’s Maria Sharapova  stands between Serena Williams and a first gold medal in singles as she trounced Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, 6-1, 6-2 in 63 minutes to move into the Olympic finals.

The fourth-seeded Williams said after the match that she "warmed up five or six times", referring to the long wait during the previous men’s match between Roger Federer and Juan Martin del Potro. She might want to try doing that before every match if today’s performance is any indication. Williams and Azarenka played during Wimbledon and Williams won that one in straight sets on her way to a fifth Wimbledon title, but it was a much closer affair than this rematch as Williams broke immediately to lead 3-0 and didn’t look back on her way to an emphatic victory.

Azarenka has lost to Williams all but one of the 10 times they have now played. We all know the basic problems that the match-up poses; Azarenka does not possess the fearsome weapons of Williams, either on serve or off the ground. To compensate for that, she needs to play with pin-point and unrelenting accuracy and she could not do that today, double-faulting twice and making 14 unforced errors, with two missed drive volleys in the first set particularly egregious. As the match went on, Azarenka did improve, and by the end she was doing a decent job in the points, working her way inside the court, going down the lines and pushing Williams — when she could get a racquet on the ball.

It’s that last part that proved problematic as Williams served 16 aces and struck 33 winners against just 5 unforced errors. Her backhand, on return, cross-court and down the line, has been the stand-out shot of the tournament and she hit winners with it from every part of the court with consummate ease. By the time she led 6-1, 4-0, she had lost, by my count, just six points on serve.

One does not want to overstate the case but it was one of the most clean, accurate and dominant performances I have ever seen from Williams, who looks thoroughly in control of her tennis without any loss of intensity. With Azarenka struggling to get a game at 1-6, 0-4, 15-15, Williams answered good depth from the world No. 1 with a casual, unplayable backhand winner. She stared down the line for a  few seconds, then gave a sudden, convulsive fist pump. For a while earlier in the year, I wondered whether Williams, after all her successes and struggles, had reached a point where she wanted the biggest titles too much and was consequently being hamstrung by the force of her own desire. If that was a problem she faced, she seems to have overcome it and reached a state where that hunger only fuels her and doesn’t hold her back, where she can put in a performance of that caliber with the prospect of one of the biggest prizes of her career now tantalizingly close.

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